Backyard astronomer in Ireland finds supernova

Oct 08, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Image: David Grennan/Astronomy forum.

(PhysOrg.com) -- An amateur astronomer working from his backyard shed in Ireland was the first in the world to spot a supernova explosion last month. The discovery is the biggest ever in amateur astronomy in Ireland.

Astronomer David Grennan and his wife Carol were about to turn in from their garden shed in Raheny in Dublin on 17th September when they discovered a supernova. The explosion that caused the burst of light occurred an estimated 290 million years ago. The discovery was confirmed officially by International astronomers earlier this week.

Supernovae are stellar explosions that can outshine entire for a short time, and they are the major source of heavy elements in the Universe.

Mr Grennan is a software developer by day, but at night he spends as much time as the Irish weather permits in his home-made observatory, which is a converted garden shed with a retractable roof. Grennan said he had been stargazing since he was about five years old, and had always been fascinated by the stars. He bought his first telescope in 1991, and has continually upgraded his equipment. In 2005 he built his home observatory using standard DIY parts. The observatory is equipped with a 14 inch Cassegrain telescope.

David's wife Carol analyzes the images he takes with his telescope and helps identify interesting objects. They discovered the supernova by comparing images of the galaxy UGC 112 taken in August and September. The signs were tiny, but David’s many years of experience helped him to spot them.

David said the discovery was the result of a year’s work, during which he surveyed 2,611 galaxies. He said it was “mind-boggling” to be the first to see something that happened almost 300 million years ago, and the time-lag “is on a scale almost as difficult to comprehend as Ireland’s astronomical debt.” Carol was even more excited than he was, and the two shared a bottle of champagne when the supernova was confirmed.

The supernova, named 2010 IK by official astronomy bodies, is the first to be discovered by someone in Ireland, but it is not Grennan’s first discovery. In 2008 he discovered a three-meter-wide asteroid (his second), which he named after his mother, Catherine Griffin, in honor of her encouragement of his stargazing hobby.

Grennan, who was once chairman of Astronomy Ireland, said he would love to see young children becoming interested in astrophysics because “it’s amazing what you discover.”

Supernovae are spotted regularly, but Professor Stephen Smartt of Queen's University Belfast said it was unusual for astronomers in northern Europe to find one. He confirmed the finding was the first supernova to be discovered from Ireland.

The is expected to be visible with a powerful telescope for the next two or three months, after which it will fade from view.

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User comments : 13

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Quantum_Conundrum
3.2 / 5 (5) Oct 08, 2010
With all the multi-million dollar 5 to 10 meter telescopes governments and universities have around the world, it's amazing that a guy with a 14 inch telescope can spot something before the "big boys".
Skeptic_Heretic
4.3 / 5 (8) Oct 08, 2010
With all the multi-million dollar 5 to 10 meter telescopes governments and universities have around the world, it's amazing that a guy with a 14 inch telescope can spot something before the "big boys".
It's a very large universe, and we have very few eyes watching it. Even fewer interested or trained eyes at that.
JamesThomas
5 / 5 (5) Oct 08, 2010
Congratulations, David and Carol Grennan!
Donutz
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2010
With all the multi-million dollar 5 to 10 meter telescopes governments and universities have around the world, it's amazing that a guy with a 14 inch telescope can spot something before the "big boys".


The thing is, when you're into the levels of magnification that they're working with, you may be looking at the sky in patches of one square arcsecond or less. The number of such patches in the whole sky is mindboggling -- and a large telescope doesn't necessarily have a larger field of view. And there are a LOT of galaxies.

BTW, I would *love* to have a 14" Cassegrainian telescope. That's not pocket change, even home-built!

Ross_Chandler
5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2010

BTW, I would *love* to have a 14" Cassegrainian telescope. That's not pocket change, even home-built!


It's the observatory that's DIY built. The telescope is a Celestron.

There's a picture of both and the observing team here
http://astronomy....dent.bmp
stanfrax
1 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2010
the problem is that the vatican owns all the telescopes
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2010
BTW, I would *love* to have a 14" Cassegrainian telescope. That's not pocket change, even home-built!
I have one with a computer controlled targetting system synched with skymap.

It's phenominal. I tested it out on Mt. Washington when we had the 3 planet convergence. Best vid of Jupiter's celestial dance I've ever captured.
Donutz
5 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2010

It's the observatory that's DIY built. The telescope is a Celestron.


Whoa. Those buggers are Schmidt-cassegrains IIRC. Even more bucks.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2010
Whoa. Those buggers are Schmidt-cassegrains IIRC. Even more bucks.

Yep, 9k US each, not counting the rest of his construction and equipment.

This man isn't an amateur astronomer, he's an independent astronomer. Someone get him some funding.
scidog
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 10, 2010
independent astronomer---now that's a term that should be coined right now!..i read Sky and Telescope and it's always amateur,independent is really what these folks should be called from now on.do you hear that S and T??
Resonance
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
Give this guy a position at the local University!
Donutz
5 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2010
Yep, 9k US each, not counting the rest of his construction and equipment.


[sigh] I built a 6" newtonian when I was a teenager. Ground the mirror and all. Even got it down to 1/8 wave, although I learned some new cussing in the process.

For us nerds, S&T is like pr0n.
lengould100
not rated yet Nov 09, 2010
Just bought my grandkids an 80mm Celestron refractor with Nexstar computer.... Hope they get interested.

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